Purdue’s run in the Crossroads Classic has not been even close to “classic.”
The Boilermakers, who have won more regular season Big Ten titles than other team in conference history, have struggled at the Crossroads. They have the worst record, 2-6, of the four teams in the annual event that started in 2011.
The event showcases the top teams in the state with Purdue, Indiana, Notre Dame and Butler. The setup is that the Big Ten teams of Purdue and Indiana alternate with Notre Dame or Butler. This rotation matches Indiana (10-1) vs. Notre Dame (8-3) at noon Saturday on ESPN, followed by Purdue (6-4) vs. No. 17 Butler (10-1) at 2:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.
Indiana and Butler are 5-3 in the Classic while Notre Dame is 4-4.
Three times teams have entered into the Classic ranked in the Top 10 nationally. Each time the top-ranked teams have lost. In 2012, unranked Butler beat No. 1 Indiana, in 2015, No. 17 Butler beat No. 9 Purdue, and in 2016, No. 18 Butler beat No. 9 Indiana.
However, Purdue has won two of the last three times in the Classic after starting 0-5.
In 2016, No. 15 Purdue beat No. 21 Notre Dame 82-67, and the next year, No. 17 Purdue beat unranked Butler, 82-67. In fact, Purdue won two games against Butler that season having beaten the Bulldogs, 76-73, in the NCAA Tournament in March.
This time around, the Bulldogs will be favored. They have had some significant early-season wins, including beating Minnesota on Nov. 12, Missouri on Nov. 25 and Florida on Dec. 7. The lone loss was 53-52 at No. 11 Baylor on Dec. 10.
Butler prides itself on defense, giving up just 54.5 points per game, fourth best in the nation. Purdue is not far behind, though, at No. 6, with opponents averaging 55.8 a game. Neither team is among the nation’s leaders offensively. Butler is tied for No. 239 (out of 350 teams) at 69.4 per game while Purdue is No. 271, scoring 67.7 points per game.
The Bulldogs outshoot their opponents from the field – 48.4 percent to 39.2; make more free throws – 11.5 to 8.5; have more assists – 14.3 to 10.4; and have fewer turnovers – 10.3 to 13.5.
They have three players scoring in double figures, led by Kamar Baldwin, 6-1 senior guard, at 15.7 points per game.
“He’s fast, he’s elusive,” Coach Matt Painter said of Baldwin to Gold and Black Illustrated. “He’s got a great mid-range game, he can get to the rim. (He’s) shooting more consistent from 3-point land – he’s hit 16 3s on the season – you gotta keep him out of transition, you gotta make it hard on him. He’s one of those guys who is going to score the basketball. You just have to make it very, very difficult on him, but that’s easier said than done.”
Others scoring in double digits include Sean McDermott, 6-6 senior guard, averaging 11.5, and Bryce Nze, 6-7 junior forward, at 10.5 per game. Those three join Bryce Golden, 6-9 sophomore forward, and Aaron Thompson, 6-2 junior guard, who average 8.6 and 8.3 points, respectively.
“Aaron Thompson does a lot of good things for them,” Painter said. “He’s got the ability to see the floor and pass the basketball, get the ball to the rim whether he’s scoring or passing it. You can’t just think so much about Baldwin and not about him, or think about McDermott.
“(If) McDermott hits 4 or 5-3s with the pace they play at, that’s a game changer when you are scoring 60 points and someone goes 4 of 5 from 3, that’s a huge deal,” he said. “They have a good team. They obviously have good guards.”
Painter anticipates putting Nojel Eastern and Eric Hunter Jr. on Baldwin, depending on their foul situations.
“We switch, so anyone can guard him at a point,” he said. “Anytime you play good individual players, it comes more down to more of a team thing than anything. You just have to be aware of them at all times.”
Nze is the leading rebounder, grabbing 6.8 per game, followed by McDermott at 4.9. Thompson is the lead assist guy by a long shot, averaging 5.8 per game, but he’s tied for the team lead with 22 turnovers with Baldwin.
Baldwin has led his team in scoring in 7 of the 11 games, with his best performance of 27 points coming against Minnesota.
As a team, Butler has scored 80 points twice during the season, on Nov. 6 against IUPUI and then again on Nov. 16 vs. Wofford.
Purdue has three players averaging in double figures – Jahaad Proctor (13.2 points per game), Matt Haarms (10.8) and Eric Hunter Jr. (10.5). Haarms did not practice on Thursday and must be “symptom-free” before he can practice or play, according to Painter.
The Boilermakers’ best offensive performance has been 93 on Nov. 16 vs. Chicago State.
Painter likes playing in the Crossroads Classic.
“It’s a great event,” he said. “It’s great for Purdue. It’s great for the state of Indiana. We haven’t won as many games in this event as we’d like to – we’d like to be more consistent - but it’s great for the fans.”
• Purdue is 3-5 all-time against Butler, including 1-3 against the Bulldogs in the Crossroads Classic. The Boilers won the first matchup between the two schools in 1998, then lost five straight – in 2001, 2006, 2011, 2013 and 2015 – before winning the last two, both in the 2017-18 season.
• Butler’s Kamar Baldwin (scoring 13, 14 points), McDermott (0, 9) and Thompson (10, 2) all played against Purdue in the Dec. 16 Crossroads Classic and the March 18, 2018, NCAA Tournament games.